Next August marks the 100th anniversary of the 1910 Fire, which swept across 3 million acres in Idaho, Washington and Montana during a two-day firestorm. At least 85 people – many of them firefighters – were killed in the blaze, testing the mettle of the newly formed Forest Service. Most of the fatalities occurred in Shoshone County. Forest Van Dorn is chairman of a volunteer committee in Idaho’s Silver Valley that is organizing events for the August anniversary.
Q.Why is remembering the 1910 Fire so important?
A.1910 was one of the most catastrophic fires we’ve ever had. At the time, the Forest Service was trying to get going. Some politicians thought it should be phased out; they didn’t think there was the need for another government agency. After the fire, the thinking changed. Maybe they needed to have this organization to fight catastrophic fires. …The loss of life is important, too. At the Nine Mile Cemetery, we have the grave with a father and son killed in the fire and two mass burials for firefighters – nine named and one unknown. When the fire blew up into one massive blaze, it trapped a lot of people.
Q.The fire has lots of dramatic stories. Which is most compelling to you, personally?
A.The Pulaski group. They were up above Lake Elsie and they got trapped to the fire. They were able to get to an old mine entrance and get inside. Ranger Ed Pulaski saved most of his firefighting crew. I also think about the devastation that it did to Wallace and surrounding areas – how people worked to save their towns.
Q.I understand that about a third of Wallace burned?
A.That’s probably pretty close. One of the reasons they didn’t lose the whole town was that they had a fire in Wallace earlier, in the late 1800s. When they rebuilt, they made sure the buildings were built of brick. A lot of people from Wallace were evacuated to Kellogg. There are stories about some of the trains coming through … with the trestles on fire. It was quite a time.
Q.Describe some of the events planned for the August anniversary.
A.We’ll dedicate the new memorials and interpretive signs on Aug. 21. We’ve invited authors and dignitaries. … We’ll have a parade of fire vehicles, and a mule pack train. … We’ll have trips to the Pulaski Trail. We found blueprints of a memorial that Pulaski sent to Washington, D.C., to honor the men from his crew that died. It was never built. We’re going to build it and place it near the trail. One hundred years from now, people will understand exactly what happened here.